Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ephemerality: Digital Learning Strategies

Alas, poor xTraNormal, I knew you. A web tool of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

Except you were finite. And now you’re gone.

I wrote about how awesome xTraNormal was in my new book, Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess Digital Work, and then discovered, with horror, that the web tool had dried up just as I submitted the manuscript. The book came out touting the wonders of making movies just by scripting the actors textually and now it’s done for.

This blog post is meant to serve two purposes. One, the disappearance of the web tool underscores how important the task is versus the tool, and two, to offer some alternatives to xTraNormal that teachers can use.

The whole point of using a web tool like xTraNormal is to engage kids in writing, specifically writing dialogue, being able to tell a complete story while navigating conventions, grammar, figurative language and powerful vocabulary. Oh, and also to have fun doing it. Writing was the objective, and xTraNormal provided an engaging way to do it.

In the book, I wrote about xTraNormal as a brain-based application that provided a visualization of the writing. Students wrote, yes, but they also controlled (Strategic and capable use of technology and digital media, yo!) options for characters, settings, character movement, etc. Here’s an example of what it looked like from an xTraNormal video shared on Youtube:

In this example, the creator actually integrates several content pieces to create the video; there’s the historical characters that were chosen as well as the discussion of balancing equations in both mathematics and chemistry. How well would a kid have to understand the content to be able to create something like this? How awesome would it be for kids to create a bunch of these to solicit feedback about revisions or misconceptions? What changes in instruction and assessment when these digital creations are touted as viable products of value that demonstrate deep levels of learning? Also of note here: this is a new version of content area literacy - writing in a content area using domain specific vocabulary with tools of the 21st Century.

Perhaps you’re beginning to see why I think it’s such a travesty that the tool is dried up.

So, to recap, the task matters more than the tool, but in this case, the tool was a pretty cool one. Note that I’m advocating for the writing here, but I have to be mindful of engagement with the kids. In terms of that engagement and to add some new tools to your digital toolboxes, I’d like to point you toward the following posts/resources that deal specifically with alternatives to xTraNormal:

Even though it’s gone, this situation is a good reminder that web tools can be ephemeral and like puddles--could be there one day but could be gone the next. It’s never a good idea to over-rely on any one tool. Staying task-focused and pulling from a toolbox of digital opportunities, whatever is available at the time, is where it’s at.

For those that got the book already, consider this an addendum. I’m including the link to the document on so you can download as a PDF and add to your digital device. THE LINK IS HERE.

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